Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Tue, May 01, 2012

News Alert: Crawford Lewis firm sues 'Tres' Bernhard

The Crawford Lewis law firm has filed what could amount to a multimillion dollar lawsuit against James M. "Tres" Bernhard, alleging the local attorney defrauded the firm, embezzled funds, and committed theft, forgery and malpractice, as well other illegal activities. The suit, filed late last week in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, claims that Bernhard--who set up shop within the offices of Crawford Lewis in 2007, promising to bring the firm business as an expert in tax credits--misappropriated or misdirected money or rights to tax credits from third parties using his position at the firm and the use of firm assets. It also alleges that he sold invalid movie tax credits, paid off personal debts through the misappropriation of client and firm funds and defrauded other third parties through various means and methods…"not all of which are currently known but remain under investigation." The alleged activity occurred between 2007 and March of this year, when it was discovered by other attorneys at Crawford Lewis. Bernhard, who is the son of The Shaw Group's founder and CEO Jim Bernhard, is currently at an undisclosed medical facility in Dallas, according to the suit. His local attorney, former U.S. Attorney David Dugas, declined to comment except to say that, “We just got (the suit) in so we are looking at it and evaluating the allegations.” Crawford Lewis attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who filed the suit, tells Daily Report that while the charges were made in state court all the allegations contained in the suit and more have been referred to federal law enforcement. Read the lawsuit here (PDF).—Stephanie Riegel

Capitol Views by Maginnis: Budget bill stuck in committee

For the first time in a long time, the budget bill failed to get out of the House Appropriations Committee on its first try, and it is unclear if it can come up again today. With a number of Republicans voting no, House Bill 1 failed, 8-10. GOP members complained that the committee should first take up the so-called funds-sweep bill to add revenue from dedicated funds. But after debating HB 822, it was not clear if the committee had the votes to pass it. The committee adjourned until after the day's floor session, in order to try to pass both bills today. But that would take a motion to reconsider from a member on the prevailing side. As the House convened, Appropriations members were huddling to discuss what happened in committee and the status of the bill. The funds-sweep bill moved $346 million from dedicated funds and other sources into the budget. About $230 million of it was to be used to match with $506 million in federal Medicaid funds to close most of the original $875 million shortfall. The added money is to go to closing part of the $304 million new shortfall recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference last week. Fiscal conservatives objected, despite the fact that the amount of so-called one-time money and swept funds has decreased for the last three years. "I don't think we've gone far enough," said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington.

(John Maginnis will publish a daily update throughout the legislative session on Daily Report PM. The report is also available to LaPolitics Weekly subscribers on the Subscribers Only page at LaPolitics.com. Registration is available on the homepage.)

Louisiana Public Broadcasting is providing a daily video update featuring highlights of the session, which you can see beginning at 6 p.m. here.

Possible busing changes again a part of school budget discussions

For the second year in a row, the East Baton Rouge Parish School System is considering a cost-saving proposal that would effectively push back the start of the school day by 20 to 30 minutes for some of the parochial schools that get bus service from the district. Last year, a similar plan was shot down amid vocal opposition from the Diocese of Baton Rouge and some members of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. But School Board officials say providing bus service to the Catholic schools later in the morning would save the district a much-needed $2 million—and it's not the only option on the table. "We have to look at things like routes, we have to look at times and we have to look at maybe having the diocese put up some of the money for the bus service," says EBR School Board President Barbara Freiberg. "It's very important that things don't come to the same conclusion as they did last year." The district is required by state law to provide bus service to private and parochial schools, but Freiberg says the Legislature no longer provides the same level of funding for the service as it has in the past. Diocesan officials and Catholic school principals will meet privately Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Catholic Life Center with representatives from EBR public schools to discuss possible solutions. Freiberg says she is "very positive about working out some sort of agreement." The officials' afternoon meeting will be followed by a 5 p.m. budget workshop at the school system central office, 1050 South Foster Dr., which is open to the public. —Stephanie Riegel

'Real Estate Weekly': La. named among 10 best states for restaurant expansion

It looks like Louisiana just can't get its fill of restaurants. According to an analysis of an array of population figures, labor statistics and private industry data by Restaurant Management magazine, Louisiana is among the top 10 states for full-service restaurant growth. Sales at the nearly 3,000 full-service restaurants already operating in the state—excluding fast-food restaurants—are expected to expand by 3.3% in 2012. Louisiana Restaurant Association President and CEO Stan Harris says the state's favorable operating costs and abundant supply of fresh seafood and other local products heighten Louisiana's culinary distinctiveness, making it attractive to both in-state and out-of-state restaurateurs. But, of course, restaurants need customers if they're to survive and thrive. And as Darryl Reginelli—who recently opened his second Reginelli's pizzeria in Baton Rouge and hopes to have a third by the end of the year—tells Restaurant Management: "We might not be the powerhouse of some other states because we're not the wealthiest state, but folks here will spend on restaurants." Other states on the magazine's top 10 list are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. The list does not assign the states a specific numerical ranking. Read the rest of the new Real Estate Weekly e-newsletter here.

Jones adds veteran assistant Kirby to LSU staff

New LSU men's basketball coach Johnny Jones says recent Georgetown assistant Robert Kirby will be joining the Tigers. Before spending the past two seasons at Georgetown, Kirby was the top assistant at Mississippi State for 12 years. He has 27 years of college coaching experience. Jones says Kirby's knowledge of the game, his experience teaching and developing players, and his reputation as one of the top recruiters in the country makes him a valuable addition to LSU's staff. Jones, a former LSU player and assistant coach, was hired as the Tigers' head coach on April 13 after spending 11 seasons as head coach at North Texas. Jones has also brought former North Texas assistants Shawn Forrest and Charlie Leonard to his new staff at LSU. Read more about the hiring of Kirby from LSUsports.net here.

Maginnis: Time came for LSU president to go

Fired LSU President John Lombardi will be missed, though it's not clear by whom. Not by his bosses on the Board of Supervisors, who chose not to wait until his contract expires in January and instead dumped him via a 12-4 vote Friday. Not by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who no doubt grew weary of Lombardi's second-guessing of the administration's budget policies and proposals for restructuring higher education, plus his inability to just stay quiet when told. Legislators had enough of him after his first visit to the State Capitol, when he spoke down to them like they were errant frat boys. Chancellors within the LSU System and other college presidents and board members were fed up with his brusque style and imperious attitude (though many quietly appreciated his saying things they dare not). Big-time alumni contributors—the kind of guys who buy out football coaches' contracts—wanted to get rid of him for not showing them due deference and for his diverting funds from the main campus to other system institutions. Lombardi lost the students early when he said they could afford to pay higher tuition, given the number of Lexuses and Mercedes he saw on campus. But he will likely be missed by those who appreciated his intellect, his candor and his resistance to the dissolution of the LSU empire statewide. Read the full column here.

(John Maginnis publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com.)

Marathon wants to increase crude oil capacity at Garyville refinery

Marathon Petroleum Co.'s Garyville refinery is seeking a state permit to expand its crude oil capacity by 20,000 barrels per day, as well as to increase the output of its production units, The Times Picayune reports, citing a permit application filed with the state Department of Environmental Quality. The improvements to the refinery, outlined in a request to the state to modify its air quality permit, are designed to increase the capacity of a hydrocracker to 110,000 barrels of oil per day from the current 90,000. The work would be done in two phases—one later this year and the second in 2014—according to a public notice about the upgrade. A hydrocracker uses heat and catalysts to break up oil into different products. The company also wants to increase the capacity of the refinery's ultra-low sulfur diesel production to 76,000 barrels per day from the current 58,000. Additionally, the project would increase the capacity of the recent expansion project to 290,000 barrels of oil per day, up from the current 270,000. Asked about the projected cost and economic impact of the project, Shane Pochard, a spokesman for the Findlay, Ohio, company, says in an email that he could not comment beyond the company's filing. In 2009, a $3.9 billion project was completed to double the refinery's capacity in order to process 490,000 barrels of crude per day, making it the fourth largest in the country.

News roundup: LSU taking applications for new suite and club seats … Ship supervisor injured in explosion on USS Kidd … Cottonport sets groundbreaking date for Corporate branch

The line forms: LSU has begun taking applications to get on the wait list for the approximately 60 suites and 3,000 club seats to be included as part of the Tiger Stadium south end zone expansion, slated to open for the 2014 season. A $5,000 deposit is required with each suite application, and a $1,000 deposit for each club seat. The initial annual donation per suite will be $69,000, not including season ticket costs, and $2,300 for each club seat. The deadline is July 31. Get the full details on the expansion project and applications from the Tiger Athletic Foundation here.

Demonstration turns tragic: The ship supervisor for the USS Kidd was injured today when a mounted gun on the ship exploded while he was firing a three-shot volley. Maury Drummond, director of the USS Kidd and Veterans Memorial, says Tim Nessmith suffered injuries to his hand and his body when the gun exploded during the third volley. Drummond says Nessmith was taken to a Baton Rouge hospital for treatment. East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services spokesman Mike Chustz says Nessmith possibly lost some fingers in the explosion and suffered burns to his body. Military personnel killed in action were being honored in a ceremony on the battleship when the explosion occurred.

In the bank: Cottonport Bank says it will break ground on its first Baton Rouge branch and 12th overall on Monday. The Baton Rouge branch will be located at 6500 Corporate Blvd. Most of Cottonport's existing 11 branches are located in small towns and communities in Avoyelles Parish. The bank bought the land, which is located in front of the The Gates at CitiPlace, last summer for about $781,000.

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